Friday, April 30, 2010

Dirty dozen rant

I came across this article on Yahoo! the other day: "The new Dirty Dozen: 12 foods to eat organic and avoid pesticide residue."

And it pissed me off.

First of all, grocery shopping is difficult enough. After all, one juggles value (how much is that per ounce?) and nutrition (how many sugar grams does that cereal have?) and any health issues (does it have any artificial color? Or in other households, nuts or gluten?). Never mind freshness (when will that expire?) and detail (don't forget the fresh ginger root for Tuesday's dinner).

Now I'm also supposed to keep in mind this dirty dozen?

I try. I really do. but last time I went to Whole Foods, they did not have any organic bell peppers. Only conventionally grown. And if you can't find organic bell peppers at Whole Foods, where are you supposed to get them?!?

The article isn't very helpful. For bell peppers, they suggest, "Can't find organic? Safer alternatives include green peas, broccoli, and cabbage." Somehow I think that if I substitute cabbage for a recipe that calls for bell pepper, someone would notice. I'll bet it wouldn't taste very good either.

It seems the article's author doesn't cook or really eat much. Who else would suggest onions as a substitute for celery? Yes, they're both crunchy vegetables. And that's where the similarities end. Try putting peanut butter on a raw onion and feeding it as a healthy snack to your preschooler. Yum. Yum. A suggested substitute for potatoes is cabbage. Again with the cabbage. Is this a plot concocted by the Cabbage Farmers of America?

My anger is misplaced. I'm frustrated with the article, but really, I'm frustrated with our farming practices. Do I have to go to Whole Foods or a family owned, artisanal farm to buy grass-fed beef? And if anyone is curious about why one would want grass-fed beef, I strongly suggest reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. Do I really need to carry a cheat sheet for which fruits and vegetables to avoid so I won't be feeding my family a varied diet of pesticide residue? Can't we just manage our agriculture so that we're not spraying 62 pesticides on peaches or feeding cows a diet that they're biologically not built to consume?

I'd better start developing a taste for cabbage. It should come naturally. My heritage is Korean, after all, and our national food is kimchee.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Imperial Danby sample test, round two

Brief recap.

First test: We tested our honed and sealed Imperial Danby sample with several items: tomato sauce, coffee, red wine, soy sauce, yellow mustard, a strawberry, and a lemon. After an hour, most of these items have left a very distinct splotch or etch on the marble. The red wine was the worst by far and had left a faint stain.

Patina test: We slathered the sample with fresh lemon juice. After an hour, there was etching over the entire tile. More patina than splotches.

Today, I put the test materials back on the sample. All the usual testers were back, except for the strawberries. Those had been eaten. Remember this sample was initially sealed before testing began. However, we did not seal it again after the first test.

After an hour, this was the result. The colorless lemon juice had left no marked change. Any further etching was disguised by the previous lemon juice etching. However, almost everything else left a slight stain from the soy sauce (slightest stain) to the red wine (most obvious stain). I don't know why the marble was more prone to staining after the overall lemon juice etching. Perhaps the lemon juice had taken off the sealer? The overall impact was lessened by the etching that was previously on the marble. Also, the stains are somewhat disguised by the color variation of the Imperial Danby.

Red wine has proven itself to be the "marble killer." Very interesting. Does this bother me? Not really. Maybe a little. But I do wonder if repeated etchings take a toll on the actual stone. It does support our decision to not use marble as our main prep countertop.

We haven't tried to clean or sand the sample yet. That's still to come.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The little caterpillar that couldn't

For my middle sprout's birthday, she received a butterfly habitat. A budding naturalist, this became one of her most prized possessions, and she eagerly awaited the day we could send off for her caterpillars. By the time the weather had warmed enough, she was literally dancing with anticipation. Shortly, her tiny caterpillars arrived. We left for spring break. Upon our return, we were shocked to see enormous caterpillars! They had grown so fast!

All of them seemed to thrive in their little plastic environment. We watched them with delight. A magnifying glass stayed beside them so we could observe them more closely.

One morning, the first caterpillar was found hanging from the environment lid. It was ready to form a chrysalis. By late evening, three others had joined him. The fifth remained on the floor, now littered with little round caterpillar waste.

My eldest read the enclosed paperwork. "They guarantee three to five will live," he intoned seriously.

The next morning, the first had become a chrysalis. Its skin was thin enough so you could still see the shape of the caterpillar within. By that evening, two more had become chrysalises. The fourth one still hung from the lid. The fifth still lay on the floor.

We really hoped that fifth one would make it. We could see it move slightly. It was still alive. Who knew why it didn't make the climb up to the lid? It looked large and presumably healthy. My budding naturalist shrugged her shoulders. She understands nature. Some survive. Some don't.

This morning, heartbreakingly, I saw that fifth caterpillar reach for the side of its container. It reared up slightly, trying to climb. Almost immediately, it fell back.

I know it's ridiculous. I've probably stepped on or driven over countless caterpillars. There's a reason that insects lay multiple eggs, up to 1,000 eggs per time depending upon species. Not all survive.

I know it's probably over for this little caterpillar that couldn't.

In a few days, I hope to have butterfly photos. Ridiculously, I hope to have photos of all five.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Imperial Danby patina

Who knew it would be so easy to turn unsightly marble splotches into patina?

Squeeze the juice from a lemon. Slather it over the sample with the lemon rind. Wait an hour. Instant patina.

And that wine stain? Barely detectable. It's more obvious in this photo than in real life. I had to hunt and hunt for the spot.

We're okay with the patina. But it's too high maintenance a material for the heavily used L-run with stove and sink. So I think we're going with soapstone (or maybe Pietra del Cardoso or honed Jet Mist) for the L-run and the Imperial Danby for the 36"x48" fridge wall.

Next, we're going to try etching/staining with wine et. al. to see if the new etches blend into the patina. Then we'll try scrubbing with Comet or the 200 grit sandpaper. Just to see how what happens.

Fun with marble! This is turning into a science experiment. Oh, and Sabjimata did a similar etch test on polished carrara. See how it turned out!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Imperial Danby sample test

As promised, we put our honed Imperial Danby sample through a rigorous test to see how it would fare in our messy, three-kids-and-two-enthusiastic-cooks kitchen. We eat at home for almost every meal (husband and son excepted). My oldest is learning how to cook, and the little ones love to help. So our countertop must endure careless handling and emerge in reasonable shape.

First, we applied sealant twice as called for in the instructions. This is an unnamed, top-of-the-line sealer purchased at a specialty store. Unnamed because my cautious spouse doesn't want to invite legal trouble.

Here's the sealed sample before testing. It's absolutely pristine with some natural and beautiful texture variation.

Here are the test items (left to right): (top) pizza sauce, soy sauce, a decent and cheap shiraz, (middle) strawberries, coffee, (bottom) lemon, and yellow mustard. We smushed, poured, and otherwise put the test items on the sample.

We left the items there for one hour. Here are the results. This is the most serious etch. Surprisingly, it was the red wine. You can feel the much rougher texture with your fingertips. There is also a visible color change. I don't know if it's actually a stain or if it's a very severe etch.

This angle catches the etching best. Unfortunately, our countertop will have a window behind it similar to this. So the etching will be very visible and pronounced.

Result. Well. You can't believe it until you see it. I'd heard that marble etches. It does. Seriously. These photos were taken right after the sample was washed and dried. It remains to be seen whether the marks fade. I'll let you know.

I'd mentally downplayed the etching, thinking to myself how much I love patina. There is patina which reads as natural texture. And then there are large splotches. Maybe after time, the splotches blend together to become patina. I'm going to have to think this through. It may be acceptable or we may be back to the starting point. The latter would be very, very disappointing. I've been obsessing over cabinet color choices paired with the white marble. Ditching the marble would be a huge design setback.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Bluebonnet in the Big Apple

Springtime in Central Park. Other than April in Paris, could anything be more romantic?

We spent most of the day at the American Museum of Natural History. If you can catch their special exhibition, "Lizards and Snakes: Alive!," do so. I've seen reptiles in zoos throughout the country. They seem to aspire to absolute immobility. However, the lizards and snakes in this exhibit darted, climbed, leaped, and slithered. One rattlesnake seemed particularly enthralled by a baby held aloft in front of it. Perhaps it was thinking, "Lunch?"

Particularly effective camouflage

I'd heard that their "Silk Road" exhibit was worth seeking out. Unfortunately, despite being primed with stories from Barefoot Books, none of my children showed any interest in attending the exhibit.

After gorging ourselves on artifacts, we explored Central Park which was bursting with blooms. A ride on Central Park's carousel. A friendly and delicious meal served family-style at Trattoria Sambuca, blocks from the AMNH. A perfect NYC spring day.

And for the observant, yes, I'm blogging out of chronological order.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day at the Peabody

The Peabody's signature Torosaurus latus

In an auspicious alignment of the planets type of event, we ended up at Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History during Earth Day. We'd just visited the exhaustingly exhaustive American Museum of Natural History just three days prior. The AMNH is one of our favorite museums, one that we almost always see on our visits to Manhattan. However, the very scale of its space and collections can be overwhelming, especially to the smaller set. The Peabody turned out to be a perfectly sized experience for our crew.

For Earth Day festivities, local civic and conservation organizations set up booths in the Peabody's Great Hall of Dinosaurs. Children could collect tomato seeds and small trees to plant at home, see bees working in a comb, and peer through a microscope at a Hemlock woolly adelgid-infested branch. All around them were skeletons and fossils from the Peabody's renowned paleontology collection.

Among other special exhibitions, the Peabody's "A Diorama Takes Shape" allows visitors to experience what normally takes place behind the scenes. As part of the exhibit, Michael Anderson, the Peabody's Exhibit Preparator, and volunteers create plants and other elements for a diorama. Mr. Anderson was present this afternoon, and he cheerfully answered questions from any visitors curious about the process of meticulously creating life-like plants and other elements.

Michael Anderson at work in the exhibition, "A Diorama Takes Shape"

We all left the museum chattering about the insects, fossils, and other artifacts we'd seen. A great stop on our Spring Break East Coast Swing.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Another use for duct tape

What's better than a Tupperware lid glued to your shower ceiling?

A Tupperware lid that's duct taped.

The "handyman's secret weapon" indeed. Red Green would be so proud.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fort Revere in Hull, MA

I recently spent a couple of days solo at Hull, MA. Ocean waves and solitude. A very effective cure for Exploding Head Syndrome and cases of chronic Stressitis.

If you're ever in the area, I suggest a quick trip to Fort Revere Park, an 8-acre historic site on the top of Telegraph Hill. On your way, stop at Weinberg's Bakery for a coffee, sandwich (I recommend the turkey with pesto), and a lobster tail to go. A very tasty pastry, their lobster tail features a crisp shell, light creamy filling with just the right amount of sweetness, and a fluff of powdered sugar. Yum.

Once at Fort Revere Park, enjoy your picnic and a spectacular panoramic view of Boston Harbor, Hingham Bay, and Hull Village. The park offers a water tower with observation deck and military history museum. Both were still closed for the season during my visit. The grounds also include remains of two seacoast fortifications (unfortunately much graffitied). Rooms with fireplaces and barred windows and tunnels offer a glimpse into a lost past.

The crumbling forts seem like the ideal setting for children's imaginary adventures. However, I'd keep a close eye on young ones.

Off in the distance, the Boston Light lighthouse flashed its urgent beam from a small rocky outcrop of land. Boston Light is the "first light station established on the North American continent, and the last in the United States to be automated. It's also our only light station that still retains an official keeper" (from New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide). I had no zoom lens with me that day so the lighthouse remains far off in the distance.

To one side, I could see a town rising gently out of the ocean. Waves crashed against rocky fortifications. Large, gracious houses, sunbleached to shades of pale, were gracefully arrayed on the slopes. Toy cars flashed metallic as they swept along winding roads. A few anchored boats bobbed delicately in the swells.

My marshmallow-hearted romantic side recalled the idyllic seaside towns in Miyasaki movies like Kiki's Delivery Service. And I watched this sight for a long, long time before driving back to town.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Winner: Henckels Giveaway, courtesy of CSN Stores

Congratulations go to comment #10:

Maureen (suburban prep)

The Bluebonnet in Beantown's winner of the Zwilling JA Henckel's Twin Signature 8" Chef's Knife sponsored by CSN Stores!

I hope that you enjoy making gazpacho this season and for many summers to come!

Thanks to everyone for entering. I hope to bring you more giveaway opportunities in the future.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bluebonnets for Beantown (courtesy of K. Kilgore Photography)

It's bluebonnet season in Central Texas, and from all accounts, the bluebonnets are blooming in abundance this year. When I first moved to the land of bluebonnets, I was fresh out of college, dewy and new and ready to jump into grownuppery. And now, two decades later, not so dewy and far from new, I miss the wide swaths of cheery blue blossoms that herald spring. Thanks to my friend, the talented photographer K. Kilgore, I'm able to share my beloved bluebonnets with you.

K. Kilgore Photography focuses on portraiture and fine arts prints. Here are some of her thoughts on photography.
K. Kilgore: Photography makes me happy. I love shooting wildflowers, sunrises and sunsets, old tombstones (yes, really!), antique vehicles, and people. All kinds of people. Especially children. I love to try to capture the true essence of a person in an image. It’s not easy to do and doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s amazing. It’s why I love to photograph children. There are no walls of self-consciousness to break through, only excitement and awe at life’s simplest pleasures. When I’m able to capture that in a photograph that a mom can hold in her hands and her heart for always, I fall in love with photography all over again.

Recently, she took her camera and family to the little city of Burnet, Texas, for the 27th Annual Bluebonnet Festival.
K. Kilgore: Burnet is officially recognized by the Texas Legislature as the “Bluebonnet Capital of Texas," and it does not disappoint! The Bluebonnet Festival is a three day affair with a parade, carnival rides, arts and crafts booths, turkey legs, and fried (!) Twinkies. There's plenty of Texas-style fun: a gunfighter shoot out, authentic Cowboy breakfast, demolition derby, Saturday night street dance and all the live music you can handle. Good family fun with a little something for everyone, all wrapped up in miles and miles of Texas wildflowers.

Many thanks to K. Kilgore for sharing her work with us. Contact her through her website or on Facebook.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

Imperial Danby marble

Note: My Danby staining/etching tests can be found here.
- Imperial Danby sample test
- Imperial Danby patina
- Imperial Danby sample test, round two
- Imperial Danby, meet Barkeeper's Friend
- Life with Danby marble

Article as originally written:
Another step on the road to kitchen nirvana. In doing this reno, I've tried to use local resources as much as possible. Our Trikeenan backsplash is made in New Hampshire. Our cabinets will be built by a local custom cabinetmaker. So when I was thinking through countertop possibilities, Danby marble came to mind.

Danby marble is quarried in nearby Vermont. It has the reputation of being a denser, harder marble. The Danby website says, " its low absorption rate of (0.07) that makes it highly suitable for use in the kitchen." Indeed, this absorption rate is less than some granites. However, it does still need to be sealed. There are many beautiful Danby marbles from Eureka (which compares to Calacatta) to Appalachian Green to the muted veining of Royal Danby to the dark green true serpentine, Verde Cavendish.

My husband finally had the opportunity to see Danby marble in person when he visited the good folks at Marble & Granite Inc. in Westwood, MA. They have an enormous selection of granite and marble. He'd made an appointment, and they pulled out a number of slabs for him to view. He brought home two samples. One, Monte Blanc, was polished quartzite. The other was honed Imperial Danby.

We both fell in love with the Imperial Danby. The honed finish was so wonderfully soft and tactile. I found myself petting the sample whenever I was in the kitchen. My son also loved it. The orange-y, gold veins perfectly brought out the antique heart pine that we're considering as flooring. Lovely.

Honed Imperial Danby with Farrow & Ball Cooking Apple Green (cabinets), Trikeenan backsplash, and antique heart pine (floor):

Honed Imperial Danby with Farrow & Ball Cooking Apple Green and Old White (cabinets), Trikeenan backsplash, and soapstone (for the Old White cabinets on refrigerator run):

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Barbecue pulled pork

I had a taste of home yesterday. One bite and I flashed back to Pok-e-Jos and Rudy's and the other fine barbecue establishments that we'd left behind in Austin. It didn't hurt that it was ninety degrees in a house with no air conditioning.

It started with pork roast on special at Whole Foods.

Barbecue Pulled Pork (adapted from this recipe)
2 lb boneless pork roast
1 T butter
1 T Cajun seasoning
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
4 cups of water
1 T Worcestershire sauce

Melt butter in large pan. Cut roast into large pieces. Slather liberally with Cajun seasoning (I used Essence of Emeril). Brown all sides in butter. Place in slow cooker. Saute onion and garlic in pan until soft. Spoon into slow cooker. Pour water into pan, making sure to stir up all the browned pork bits. Pour water into cooker. Add 1 T Worcestershire sauce. Cook on high for 4 hours, then low for 2 hours. Pull apart with fork. Return to liquid on warm setting until ready to serve.

We ate this with Annie's Naturals Organic barbecue sauce, Sweet and Spicy flavor, and dill pickles from Russo's on buns. Served with baked beans and lemon garlic broccoli. Delicious and definitely kid-friendly!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Henckels Giveaway, courtesy of CSN Stores

This giveaway is now closed.

A couple of weeks ago, Jason from CSN Stores contacted me about sponsoring a giveaway on my blog. What a great way to thank you all for following my New England (mis)adventures!

Based right here in Boston, CSN Stores features 200+ shopping sites with everything from furniture to tools to home decor. After almost a year of planning my kitchen remodel, I know the challenges of trying to source just the right pieces. I've found a great resource in CSN Stores. My fellow kitchen renovators (or those simply refreshing their rooms) can find an expansive selection of barstools and housewares for every style and budget.

Just imagine these classic, oft-imitated Emeco Navy Barstools adding authentic utilitarian chic to your space.

Or these warmly inviting, budget-friendly barstools from Woodbridge Home Designs.

I can imagine my family lounging on those barstools, snacking and chatting about the very important things that had happened that day. Perhaps with windows open, letting in the summer breeze.

Sunday we put up our screens. The girls wore flipflops, and we played frisbee in the backyard. Today's going to be another open window day. This weather makes me think of farmers markets, brimming with beautiful locally grown produce. Backyard gardens fragrant with herbs and flourishing plants, laden with tomatoes and cukes. But prepping fresh produce is a keener pleasure with a new, sharp blade. So...

The Giveaway Item: Zwilling JA Henckels Twin Signature 8" Chef's Knife, sponsored by CSN Stores

Made in Germany, this knife features an ergonomic handle, stamped one-piece construction, and laser-sharpened blade, using the FRIODUR high-carbon, ice-hardened process. My Zwilling J.A. Henckels knives have been the workhorses of my kitchen for almost twenty years. I hope that this knife becomes a staple tool in yours.

How to enter:
- Leave a comment here, telling me what you look forward to preparing and/or eating in the upcoming months. This qualifies you for one entry.

How to gain additional entries:
You must submit each additional entry as a separate comment.

- Add this post to your blog: "Enter a great giveaway for a Zwilling JA Henckels Twin Signature 8" Chef's Knife from CSN Stores at A Bluebonnet in Beantown." linking to this blog post for three extra entries. Please provide a link to your blog.

- Tweet this giveaway for one additional entry per tweet. Please provide link. (Once daily)

- Contest is open to the residents of the U.S. and Canada only. You must be 18 or older.
- This contest ends on Wednesday, April 14, at 11:00 pm EST.
- Winner to be announced Friday, April 16
- Any entries after the deadline will be deleted.
- Only one person per household may enter. By entering, you agree to forfeit your prize if it's determined that you entered under more than one name/email.
- Winner will be chosen at random via generator.
- Winner has 48 hours to respond by email or another winner will be chosen.
- Leave your email address in your entry.
- If you don't leave your email address in your entries, make sure your profile is public.

Good luck to all!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Strawberry freezer jam, take 1

I'm not the canning kind. I don't can, preserve, or put away. I neither jam nor jelly.

However, when confronted with a flat of strawberries at Russo's for a mere $10, I caved. That flat ended up coming home with me. Now a flat of strawberries is an awful lot of berries. We ate some fresh. We made strawberry banana yogurt smoothies. We were still left with over a half-flat.

Putting some away seemed like a reasonable answer to the question, "What do you do with a half-flat of strawberries?" I researched freezer jam. It didn't sound too hard. And making freezer jam does away with that boiling jars/tong action. I looked for pectin at Whole Foods. They had a fancy kind called Pomona's Universal Pectin. According to its website, it doesn't require sugar to jell so you can make less sugary (hence healthier) jams and jellies. Sounds good to me. Instead of sugar, it is activated by calcium. Pomona's Pectin comes with a little bag of powdered calcium that you mix with water in a jar. Very easy.

First, I washed and hulled a lot of berries. Then I was supposed to crush them. I wasn't sure how to accomplish this so I crushed them by hand using a Rosle fruit muddler that my sister, Judy, had given me years ago. I'm not sure if this is how a muddler should be used, but it did a great job. The kiddos enjoyed crushing berries though it did require some strength. Once the strawberries seemed muddled enough, I added sugar. Lots of sugar. Probably too much sugar.

This is where it went terribly awry. The next step was to boil water, add pectin, and stir until dissolved. Sounds simple, right? One recipe said this step should take a minute. First, steam from the boiling water made the pectin powder stick to the measuring spoon. After a few spoonfuls, a powdery, sticky mess stuck to the spoon. I tried to scrape it off, but it was like glue.

You were supposed to stir the pectin in the boiling water until dissolved. It wasn't dissolving. I stirred and stirred. I had tan lumps floating in the water. I called my husband in a panic. Google said to mash the lumps with a spoon. Have you ever tried to mash little gelatinous lumps? They don't mash. They just squeeze flat and float away. Still in lumps. I mashed and mashed and mashed, cursing under my breath.

I had ten minutes until I had to leave for carpool duty.

Fine. Dissolved enough. I poured it into the sugary crushed strawberries. With the Pomona's Pectin, you add teaspoonfuls of the calcium water until the jam starts to jell. I added about...oh...countless teaspoons. Somewhere around 20 maybe. You have to eyeball this step. It started to look like jam! (With regular pectin, I believe you just let the jam sit out for 24 hours to jell.)

I was then supposed to put the jam into jars and freeze immediately. I had prepped a funnel for the task. I set the funnel in the mouth of a mason jar and poured in some jam. The fruit clogged the neck. It was improvisation time. A ladle worked just fine.

Break for carpool. After the mom chauffeur gig, I came home to jar the rest of the jam. Resting for thirty minutes didn't hurt it at all. And here is the result!

Strawberry Freezer Jam recipe:
7 cups crushed strawberries
2.5 cups sugar (I could have done less. The result was sweet, but not sickly.)
1.25 cups water
5 teaspoons and a pinch of Pomona's Pectin
many teaspoons of the Pomona's Pectin calcium/water mixture

Wash, hull, and crush strawberries. Add most of the sugar to the crushed strawberries. Keep some sugar to add later with the pectin. Stir. Boil water. Add pectin powder with some sugar to the boiling water. This is supposed to reduce the lumping problem. Stir until dissolved. Add hot pectin water to strawberry/sugar mix. Stir. Add teaspoons of calcium/water mixture until the strawberries begin to jell. If you're not using Pomona's, keep the covered jam out for 24 hours. Pour into jars. Freeze.

The kids all tried spoonfuls and proclaimed it yummy. Even the boy who hates jam of any kind. He said it tasted fresh like real strawberries. I may have just turned into the canning kind.